Radio-Canada ombudsman clears Pierre Duchesne of conflict of interest allegations

June 15, 2012: Pierre Duchesne resigns from his post as legislative reporter for Radio-Canada

July 6, 2012: Pierre Duchesne declares his entrance into politics with Parti Québécois.

June 15, 2012: Pierre Duchesne resigns from his post as legislative reporter for Radio-Canada

July 6, 2012: Pierre Duchesne declares his entrance into politics with Parti Québécois.

The short turnaround time between these two events — along with reports from Canadian Press and La Presse that suggested Duchesne had been in talks with PQ before his resignation — led Quebec’s Liberal party to file two official complaints against Duchesne alleging a conflict of interest on the part of the former Radio-Canada reporter.

But Radio-Canada’s ombudsman Pierre Tourangeau says he found no evidence that Duchesne had placed himself in a conflict of interest while employed with Radio-Canada. However, Tourangeau notes that his investigation was based only off of the information known to him.

When reporting objectively is the name of the game, as it is in political reporting, journalists sometimes go as far as not voting in order to maintain that objectivity. But, as Tourangeau says* in his decision, “Knowing now that he adheres to the PQ, we can logically conclude that he was at least sympathetic to the ideas of this party as a journalist. However, this does not mean that he carried out his duties with bias.”

He continues: “Like every other citizen, journalists have values and opinions. However, they must be ignored when performing their duties.” Tourangeau found no evidence of bias in Duchesne's reporting in his review.

Duchesne was the subject of 17 complaints in his time as leglislative reporter for Radio-Canada — which is on par with most journalists, Tourangeau says — with one complaint resulting in a review from the Ombudsman. In that review, Tourangeau also found no breach of journalistic standards of practice.

In this decision Tourangeau says that several listeners have taken Duchesne’s entrance into politics with the PQ as evidence of political bias they thought they had seen in his work. However, his reporting should not be judged in hindsight because of his political affiliations now, Tourangeau says.

La Presse reported on June 30 that a source had said the PQ had been reserving the riding of Borduas for a star candidate from Radio-Canada for three months. And on July 3, Canadian Press reported that a reliable source within the party had said that discussions with Duchesne began “earlier this year.”

As Ben Shingler wrote in a J-Source story last week on this subject, Duchesne is not the first and likely not the last person to move from journalism to politics. In this case, it was the timing of everything that put Duchesne’s journalistic ethics into question.

“If he was in negotiations to join a political party while he was working as a journalist, that’s where the conflict of interest comes into play,”  Quebec Press Council president Guy Armot told Shingler.

“As soon as there is an agreement with a political party, that independence goes away and there are questions about whether a journalist can report things fairly.” 

Duchesne and PQ leader Pauline Marois have denied the Liberal’s allegations, saying that discussions about joining the PQ began after Duchesne left his post at Radio-Canada.

As Tourangeau noted in his decision, the La Presse  story never names Duchesne, and that there is no evidence that the anonymous sources in the two stories are not the same, or did not obtain their information from the same channel. And since the sources are anonymous, and only known to the reporters and editors in that story, Tourangeau was only able to make his decision based on the information made available to him.


*Translated from Tourangeau’s decision in French to English using Google translate and my basic French-language reading comprehension. If there are any errors in translation, please let us know.